Monday, February 14, 2011

'BP: Making It Right (for BP)'

by Scott Edwards, Director of Advocacy, Waterkeeper Alliance
(originally posted on Feb. 8, 2011 by The Huffington Post -
Who hasn't seen those "Making It Right" ads that BP is using to flood the media like so much run-away oil saturating the Gulf? Over the past nine months, BP has conducted a full-throttle charm offensive, taking out full-page ads in The New York Times , sponsoring small-town festivals all along the Gulf Coast, and running countless television spots, repeating their relentlessly conciliatory message. They're pulling out all the stops -- clearly subscribing to the notion that the amount of penance owed is directly proportionate to the size of the sin. And with the enormity of the transgression of public trust embodied in the spill, BP sure has a lot of "Making it Right" to do.
But BP's a company whose bottom line doesn't account for the cost of restoring our precious natural resources or the health of our communities. BP is in it for the money. The amount of "Making it Right" BP is going to do is purely a function of some number-crunching cost/benefit analysis. They spend money on ads because they're more interested in cleaning up their image than cleaning up the Gulf. A clean image means increased profits; a clean Gulf means financial losses in the form of remediation and wildlife rehabilitation costs and Clean Water Act fines.
So while they're working hard, with a whole lot of fanfare, in street festivals and in TV commercials to make it right, they're quietly working even harder behind closed doors in Washington to make it all wrong. In DC, they're undercutting the American public and our Gulf Coast communities, ensuring that at the bottom line of the ledger, they protect their shareholder profits.
This shouldn't be news. From day one, BP has tirelessly downplayed the number of barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf waterways during their 87-day disaster. Remember when they claimed only a 1,000 barrels a day, and then, when pressed, 5,000? That whole time, their internal documents that were turned over to Congress had BP admitting that in truth, 100,000 barrels a day could have been pouring from their blown well.
Even today, in the midst of their "Making it Right" push, BP still struggles mightily to re-shape the truth. We hear now rumors that BP is lobbying hard in private meeting rooms at the Environmental Protection Agency to once again minimize their impacts and stick a make-believe low number on the amount of barrels that poured forth per day from their disastrously faulty oil rig. It seems as if BP has the EPA over a barrel -- the word is that EPA is actually negotiating with agency to officially reduce the number of barrels spilled in order to reduce the company's fines under the Clean Water Act. By not living up to the true size of this disaster, BP is doing anything BUT making it right.
Correctly assessing the number of barrels released per day during those three months matters. It directly impacts the Clean Water Act fines that BP must pay. Since this money is to be used to help restore the millions of devastated lives, miles of coastline, and communities that were impacted by BP's negligence, the impacts of BP's attempt to rewrite history goes way beyond the immediate financial impacts to the company. As the Exxon Valdez spill has shown us, the environmental and human health impacts of the Gulf disaster will continue for decades to come. Without an accurate accounting of how much oil was really dumped into the Gulf by BP's irresponsible actions, researchers will be at a significant disadvantage. There's no reason, other than pure profit, for BP to lie about the amount of oil it released.
In an article published Thursday, the Houston Chronicle quoted Representative Ed Markey; "If BP wants to start increasing dividends to their shareholders, they should stop low-balling the size of the spill and own up to their responsibilities to the people of the Gulf of Mexico." The article also discusses BP's new strategy of decreasing its overall footprint while refocusing on exploration in developing nations. Hardly "making it right," the focus on developing nations is another way to squeeze profits while skimping on environmental and safety precautions. Developing nations have fewer environmental protections than industrialized ones and often have little infrastructure to guarantee protections against damages to communities from oil and gas businesses' negligence and malfeasance. With less governmental transparency it's easier for corporations like BP to get away with doing more harm.
Surely, we can all recognize that "making it right" is nothing more than a transparent public relations slogan; we shouldn't expect more from a multinational that's in the business of making money. But, if its true that EPA is in fact considering officially reducing the scope of BP's oil spill, than we should question this slogan: "to protect human health and the environment." That's the EPA's mission as defined by act of Congress, and it's a phrase that has to mean something. The EPA's job is protect America's waters and people - not to protect a polluter corporation or to soften the blow of accountability against a bad actor, mandated by the federal laws the EPA was created to uphold.
The industry-wide problems that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster must be fixed. We can't stand by and watch BP shy away from taking total responsibility from fixing its own mess nor can we stand by and watch the company move into less protected and less organized areas to wreck havoc on their environment, health and way of life. "Making it right" means being honest about how much oil was spilled into the Gulf, paying the fines owed under the Clean Water Act - in their full and correct amounts. It means providing Gulf Coast communities impacted by this disaster with whatever it takes to restore their lives and their livelihoods. And if BP won't make it right, it's up to the EPA and Obama Administration to compel them to do it.
©2010 John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper

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